I also recently just ran this recently at ConNooga. While it was an exhausting 12 hour session at the convention, the players and I had a lot of fun with the module. There was a ton going on, lots of very good roleplaying opportunities, and interesting battles.
For my party I had :
Barbarian 11 (Damage Dealer)
Barbarian 11 (Polearm Tripper)
Cleric of Sarenrae 11
Druid 11 (Frog animal companion)
Spoiler Warning for Ruby Phoenix Tournament
I had the PCs given their mission by the Society at the Grand Lodge. They were then teleported to Goka, and were then transported to the island for the tournament. On the boat ride I managed to get the party to talk more about their abilities and accomplishments to Risha then may have been wise.
At the Noodle House the party met with Marthysan and Kiang Zhen, and got to be familiar with them. I used Kiang as their regular contact on where they were supposed to go, and someone who in general liked to taunt the party.
The party monk accepted Chung Po’s challenge for a nonlethal exhibition bout before the tournament within the Noodle House. But the PC monk soon found himself in over his head against his opponent and found himself surrendering before he was grinded into a pulp.
The party quickly beat down the Monks of the Enduring Spirit. Fun, but not a whole lot of meat to the affair.
The monk and two barbarian PCs attempted this challenge. The monk was unable to break the coconut, the reach barbarian was foiled by the iron bar, and the damage barbarian was unable to break the stone.
The Headless One
The party did very well in this encounter due to nearly everyone either being immune to poison through various magical items or other abilities, or having high Fort Saves. Though the party did use a Gust of Wind on a Cloudkill, and blew the Cloudkill into the audience. Killing dozens of people by accident. But the monster itself was pretty quickly dispatched.
During the night the party ate the poisoned food and beverages. But once again due to their virtual immunity to poisons, most of them were fine except for the sorcerer in the party who needed to have a few Lesser Restoration’s cast on him to fix him back up.
The party decided to investigate the matter. The party spotted the group of Aspis Consortium mercenaries at the Noodle House. Who I described as being the same group of Aspis mercenaries in Blood Under Absalom due to their very similar stats, and to form a bit of continuity in the story. The PCs noticed that were not eating or drinking anything from the restaurant, and believed they were the culprits. A Detect Thoughts spells confirmed they knew about the poisoning, but it was the Golden League behind it. After some spiteful insults, bickering, and chest thumping, the PCs decided to back down for now due to not having any proof of the Aspis’s wrong doing and not wanting to get disqualified for attacking another team outside of a match.
Due to none of the PCs being particularly good at archery, they declined the invitation for this contest.
The PCs managed to quickly remove Yasi from the fight with a Grease spell, and then either Greased her minions or chopped them down. Quickly ending this fight without much trouble.
The NPC for this battle never even got an action off when the Sorcerer hit her with a Persistent Hideous Laughter, and I failed the saves. The party then proceeded to beat her into oblivion without skipping a beat.
The PCs decided to investigate the suspected sabotaging of the tournament, and discovered that the Golden League was trying to rig fights to win bets. They discovered some other incidents of poisoning, and other attempts to disrupt the tournament.
The PCs were invited to watch a match with Nashota Bloodhoof from Kortos Envoy in it. She was then crushed to death by a falling sabotaged tower. Much to the surprise, anger, and frustration of my players who had played that scenario. They were not happy with those responsible to say the least.
The PCs decided to throw their damage barbarian into this fight in the hopes of bringing it to a conclusion with one decisive swing. Unfortunately for them the NPC won initiative, and hit the PC with one spell after another, badly hurting him, and nearly killing his animal companion for the fight. But he did finally close the distant, and won the battle with a single strike.
The PCs took a slight beating in this battle due to the environment and the NPCs abilities, but they did not have too much trouble considering they made their saves against most of the spells I threw at them, and they finished each enemy off in due order once they closed into melee.
This test gave the PCs quite the beating. The reach barbarian got hit with a Dominate Person, and was told to tell the Emissary of their failure to complete the test. Thus removing him from the battle. The rest of the battle involved the PCs trying to figure out where their opponent was, and trying to pin their invisible opponent down, and overcome her tactical advantage. After going back and forth for awhile, the Sorcerer managed to convince Tsavati that if she gave them the bracelet, they will tell the Emissary that she had done exceptionally well during the test. She agreed, and handed over the bracelet.
The PCs decided to have another meal at the Noodle House, and were ambushed by the Xun. They nearly managed to kill one of the PCs before the PCs got their feet under them, and dispatched them in quick order. They convinced the island’s officials to keep the Noodle House open despite all the incidents that had happened there.
The PCs did not have too much trouble with this battle. They succeeded on most of their saves against Hok Fung’s spells, and the PC Monk simply flew up to him, and beat him into submission. The leech swarms only took a little more time to deal with.
The party decided to accept the Emmisary’s challenge to slay Huyanwo, and became excited by the prospect. They followed the directions to his lair. Seeing that it was largely underwater, the Druid decided to animal shape into a dolphin and scout the area out. He discovered the treasure there, but then saw that Huyanwo was swimming up from behind him. He tried to get away from the dragon by swimming as fast as he could down the coast, but was soon found out Huyanwo was significantly fast then him. Seeing that the Druid the dragon were swimming down the coast, they followed.
What followed was a pretty brutal slugfest. Having isolated himself from the party, the Druid was killed by Huyanwo when he tried to get away from him. The rest of the party was getting pretty badly beat up by Huyanwo, and it was quickly turning into a TPK situation. But the Sorcerer managed to turn things around when he successfully Feebleminded Huyanwo, and then scared him off with an illusion of a gargantuan red dragon. Though they did fail to kill the Huyanwo, they did managed to defeat him by chasing him away.
The cleric was easily able to pass these various tests due to his Necklace of Adaptation, a couple spells, and high saves.
The party discovered that Marthysan had been kidnapped, and proceeded to go to the docks when they found the note. There they discovered the Aspis mercenaries. After some banter back and forth the PCs decided to take their frustrations for the various sabatoge efforts out of the mercenaries and attacked them. Besides the barbarian nearly being slain due to the combined efforts of the Aspis’s two front liners, they were able to beat the mercenaries without too much trouble. None of the Aspis mercenaries were allowed to survive, and Marthysan was rescued.
I’m sorry to say that this round was basically a waste of time and word count for the module. I predicted this fight wouldn’t last more than two rounds. It didn’t last one. The Sorcerer hit the NPC with a Persistent Hideous Laughter, and the party mauled the NPC to death in quick order without him ever standing a chance.
This exhibition has a chance towards becoming very nasty of the PCs. The damage barbarian was knocked down from full HP to nearly dead during a single full round attack.
Statblock Error: I rechecked this after the fact, but I’m pretty sure that orc double axe should have a X3 to its critical instead of 19-20.
I decided to skip this due to nearly running 11 hours by this point, and the players in general looking exhausted by the module.
If it wasn’t for the Gomwai’s immunity to fear, the PCs would have killed him outright with a Phantasmal Killer. This battle went on for awhile, but the PCs were eventually able to overwhelm their opponents through numbers. The damage barbarian, who took the brunt of Gomwai’s punishment, was nearly killed. But otherwise the PCs were just too much for his team.
The Twins Revenge
For the ambush I had Dizhen hiding in the audience to keep the PCs from noticing her spellcasting, and dissuade them from merely area effect spells and killing innocent audience members. Jufeng in turn summoned up a storm in order for there to be high enough winds to make it very difficult for the PCs to fly up to her (you would be surprised how few PCs depend on Boots of Flying and Potions of Flying, but never take ranks in Fly). The PCs were unfortunate in that they were all clustered together at the end of the final round, and were all capture by a Forecage. But the Sorcerer saved the day with a Greater Dispel, and dispelled the Forcecage.
The PCs spent a great deal of time trying to pin down and then close their opponents while getting bombarded with spells. They first spotted Dizhen in the audience, got up to her, and killed her. It took a bit longer, and they took quite a bit of damage before a mixture of See Invisibility, Invisibility Purge, and Glitterdust allowed them to pin down Jufeng. The Sorcerer hit her with a Feeblemind, and they then chased her down and killed her when she fled in a confused panic. This fight by far took the longest, and that had a lot to do with me using every trick I could come up with to keep the PCs on their toes, and use the environment and spells available to maximum effect to make this a worthy challenge.
Conclusion and Opinions on the Ruby Phoenix Tournament
Overall I rank this module very highly. There were a lot of fun moments in it, some good roleplaying opportunities, and a few great combat encounters. It very much felt like a martial arts tournament in a high fantasy world, and my players said they had a lot of fun playing it.
That said, there were some problems I found. First off, I just do not think Performance Combat works within the context of Pathfinder Society. Most PCs simply do not have the skills necessary to do remotely well in Performance Combat. On average my PCs were getting +2-3 on DC 14-30 checks. Fighter type of characters will simply not have the bonuses they need to make the audience more favorable to them, and by the end of round two of the first combat the PCs had already made the audience hostile to them, and had no virtually no chance of improving the audience’s attitude towards them. After that we pretty much gave up on Performance Combat for the night, and I had to shake my head in disappointment in how virtually no player in PFS play will ever get the related boon on their Chronicle sheet.
The combats in the module have a range of challenge to them. Some were embarrassingly easy like the fight with Seishuku (which was just embarrassingly easy in my opinion). While some could easily get a PC or even an entire party killed. One of the problems I ran into was that most of the regular rounds of the tournament just got overwhelmed by a full six PC party. These encounters were clearly designed for four PC parties, and it showed. Six PCs vs. one NPC rarely provides a challenge unless there is a major level discrepancy (which there wasn’t in this module), they have very good tactics (depends on the encounter here), and/or there are significant environmental factors (most of the battles are the strait up slugfests that PCs excel at) I think if I ran this in the future I would do what Dragnmoon did, and restrict the normal rounds to four man teams to keep it a challenge. Most of the more challenging encounters in the book were exhibition matches, and the final fight. Not the actual normal round which I figure you can get away with four PCs pretty easily.
I also want to warn other GMs that this module will require significant prep time to be ready. This is not pick up and play friendly. Ruby Phoenix Tournament is about on par with Eyes of the Ten for the amount of preparation, notes, and time it will take to be ready for play. I had to read through the module about three times, study five or more books for classes, feats, spells, and other stuff such as fluff, and take down multiple notes in order to make sure I to be prepared to run this. And even then I sometimes forgot about buffs I had up, some class features, and other minor things as I ran this over the course of 12 hours at a convention. This was such an exhausting adventure I had one player fall asleep at the table and another who just needed to step away from the table for an hour or two in addition to all the other 15-30 minute breaks we had to take. Also if you can, I would recomend try to see if you can review your player’s character sheets so that you are familiar with their abilities and you don’t get surprised at the table with something you have never seen before. I had a couple incidents where players were not familiar with how their abilities work.